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Radical defense of St. Petersburg Mormons


ReligioPolis, 13 August 2013


Late in July we reported on the Internet about the public hearings that occurred in St. Petersburg at which the question of the construction of a religious building by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) was discussed. In itself the example of the declared hostility toward the new religion on Russian territory was not unique. But the appearance in the press of some details of the event—specifically the publication in the newspaper Nevskoe Vremia of 9 August of a document titled "Conclusion concerning results of public hearings on the question of granting provisional permission use of land or object of capital construction"--attracted attention again.


In contrast to other such discussion, in this case the publication of a detailed report by Rosbalt and the fact of presenting readers the possibility of learning about the contents of documents illustrate problems that not only the Mormons' religious organization has.


We commend to readers the documentary evidence about the process of the expression of popular will in St. Petersburg school No. 457 and the response about the precedent by the first of the experts to whom we turned requesting commentary.


Anton Dannenberg (kandidat of historical sciences):


Nowadays we often discuss how contemporary society is moving in the direction of a polarization of opinions and views and in the direction of multi-religiosity and multi-culturalism. Some postmodern philosophers maintain even that this movement (in the course of which truth becomes even more relative and the absolute is totally rejected) is irreversible, since the world has reached a new stage of existence, following the "totalitarianism" of the modern epoch engendered by the enlightenment. But, as is known, philosophical concepts by no means always correspond with reality, especially when they have been worked out in the West, and we are talking about Russia, where, as classically expressed, sometimes there is simply no "middle," and instead of seeking a compromise there is either take it or leave it.


In this article I wish to talk about another example of such "incompatibility" and absence of a "middle," and much more.


And so, on 29 July 2013 in the Vyborg district of St. Petersburg there were public hearings on the question of locating on the territory of the municipal district of Shuvalovo-Ozerki on a plot of land belonging to the "Religious Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Russia" a religious building intended to meet the needs of this organization—a meeting house. In the school house, 73 persons assembled, including representatives of the religious organization itself, the head of municipal education, officials of the district administration, a deputy from the legislative assembly, activists and public figures, and residents of neighboring buildings. Together they were supposed to resolve the question: will there be a house of worship on this specific piece of land, or not. But instead of calm discussion dealing with policies of city development, the hearings were turned into another demonstration of legal nihilism and the aggressive attitude of residents of the cultural capital toward an alien faith.


Let's state at the outset that the hearings culminated in a public verdict that was negative for Russian Mormons. At the same time, the decision was reached in complete accordance with the laws of St. Petersburg, according to which this parcel of land really did not conform to all the specific requirements for construction thereon of facilities of this type. And on this matter there cannot be a second opinion—the law is the law.


But in this article I wish to talk about something else—about the intolerance that exists in our society with respect to everything that seems to be incomprehensible and alien.


After the conclusion of the public hearings, a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said in an interview with a Rosbalt correspondent:  "We will not condemn these people, but we greatly regret that such intolerance is being cultivated in society."


Just what happened in this building of an ordinary St. Petersburg school that evoked such a reaction of a religious leader?


What happened was the following: instead of a discussion of a simple question of the construction of a facility (even if it was a religious one that has no particular significance), residents of the district and representatives of local government created a genuine trial of a religious organization, of whose activity the greater part of them did not have the slightest notion. Accusations of sectarianism were sounded against the church, and of destruction of the Russian state and of danger for its children, and so on.  All of this hysteria focused on a transcript of hearings published in the Nevskoe Vremia newspaper (9 August 2013). Residents of St. Petersburg in attendance assured themselves and their neighbors that the Mormons' teaching "is completely alien to our Russian land," and that "the titular nation heretofore is Russian and the titular religion is Orthodoxy." And so forth in the same spirit. In principle, this argumentation could be accepted, but only with one qualification: "In the Russian federation, there is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to profess individually and in common with others any religion, or not to confess any religion, and to freely choose and change, have and spread religious and other convictions, and to act in accordance with them." (point 1 of article 3 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations").


Apparently, the citizens who were present at the hearings were ignorant of such rules of Russian legislation. Or else they did not think it necessary to obey the rules and requirements of the legislation. In accusing Mormons for moral flaws, the participants in the discussion violated completely the so-called "law on protection of believers' feelings," by explicitly and publicly insulting representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


One is also depressed by the confidence of the Orthodox participants in the hearings of their correctness as the majority. How can there be any talk of tolerance and patience and the construction of a multicultural society based on respect for every person's rights. In our reality a certain A.V. Diagterev asks:  "Who belongs to this church and sympathizes with it; raise your hand please. One, two, three. So where is the majority? Who are we building this church for?" It remains for one to hope that somebody, somewhere will tell Diagterev that three persons have the very same rights as all of the rest have.


It could be possible to ascribe all of this ugly story to the elementary ignorance of people about what is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Notions existing in public (such as the practice of polygamy) no doubt work against this religious organization. So ordinary people never realize the particulars of different religious movements, and thus they might not even know that the official Mormon church rejected polygamy back at the end of the 19th century, and today polygamy is practiced by the so-called fundamentalist Mormons, against whom there have been numerous judicial cases in the United States.


But are such arguments justified? As stated, no. As they say, ignorance is no excuse. That's the first thing. And the second: people were informed that they are dealing with an officially registered religious organization. This "second thing" should be enough if we are living in a law-based state, that you should behave, even if you do not like it, at least in accordance with the requirements of the legislation.


The horrific lack of culture that breaks through the text of the minutes reminds us again about what kind of society we live in. A society that does not respect human rights and the laws of its own government; a society where it turns out it is Mormons who are guilty of all Russia's problems, from the geopolitical to the domestic. Where the division on the ours/theirs line continues because the alien is perceived so negatively. And this does not concern just the Mormons, who in this case perhaps are not quite fully legal within the limits of existing law. The issue is the trend.  As long as the perception of the "other" is not proper in our society, so long will grow the tensions within society itself.


At the same time it is important to recall that aggression against the movement that is taken as the "other" can be quickly turned against those who today, perhaps, welcome it as the regeneration of some kind of Orthodox spirituality. Recall 1917 and the events that followed it: who destroyed churches, shot priests, and wrote denunciations? Or did these people suddenly fly in from some other planet and were not born and raised in the Orthodox Russian empire?


No doubt, in this case that is so painful for our history, it is impossible to generalize and paint everything with one color. Many people have not renounced their faith and are defending their religious views to the end. There are differences. But the fact remains that mass consciousness in our country changes quite quickly and embraces new ideas. And it is one of the peculiar psychological traits of Russia that no single ideology or religious idea is enshrined in mass consciousness as a universal value. And that includes even the Christian religion. And thus it is extremely important to distinguish true religiosity (for which profound individual faith is important, and not alien error) from pseudo-religiosity (that is superficial and politicized), and to remember always: in the modern world only calm and equal dialogue facilitates the stabilization of relations among various cultures and forward progress.  (tr. by PDS, posted 13 August 2013)

Related article:  St. Petersburg citizens reject Mormons
July 30, 2013



Rosbalt News Agency, 13 August 2013


Public hearings on the construction of a church in the Vyborg district grew into religious debates in which Orthodox believers insulted followers of the "Religious Association of the Church of Jesus Christ" and even threatened them with physical violence.


The hearings were held in the premises of "English" school No. 457 on Asafiev Street; the church itself is supposed to be built on Khoshimin Street, No. 9. In the assembly hall of the school, approximately 100 persons gathered; there was not sufficient seating for many and people stood in the aisles. Some of those attending were local residents, but no fewer than half were Orthodox activists who came from the most diverse districts of St. Petersburg. Thus, the Rosbalt reporter recognized one of the activists as Gleb Likhotkin who had been convicted on a charge of shooting a gay activist at one of the public events of the LGBT community last year.


The hearings caused a stir not only among citizens and Orthodox activists, but also in news media. At least ten television cameras were set up in the assembly hall, although a majority of the TV group left the school within a half hour.


The meeting began with a speech by a representative of the religious association, Konstantin Pecherskii. The man began showing slides and describing the plan for the future church. However he was not listened to for long; shouts rang out in the room: "Why are we listening to this" and "We do not need Mormons here."


The speeches of citizens began. The first to express his opinion was a certain Vladimir, a docent of a department of social health. "We are dealing with a totalitarian sect. As a scholar I declare that its effect upon the psyche is completely fatal. People who go through this sect become, to a substantial degree, defective," the docent reported under the strange shouts of the crowd: "Don't play around with us, docent. We do not need Mormons!" The fact is that the audience at first did not realize on which side the speaker was, and only when he declared directly that "we have plenty of all kinds of poppycock, pagans, and sorcerers, and we just won't have Mormons" did the audience begin applauding.


However the next speaker again fooled the crowd. "I live in this district and my daughter attends this school. I was the president of the first parish that appeared here. I have been a member of this church for 15 years. I am the father of seven children and I adopted one child from a children's home. He was mentally retarded, but now he is normal. Our children and the children of parents who are members of the church do not drink, nor smoke, nor curse, like many of their peers. I was an Orthodox believer and was baptized by my parents, and I am a patriot for my fatherland, our Russia. Look what is happening to our country—drug addiction, alcoholism, crime. But we are raising good, decent children," the cleric declared to shouts of "Get out!" "Infidel!" "Take off to your America!"


Another representative of the religious movement, Dmitry Sedov, tried to persuade the audience that Mormons are not at all a sect. "Our church has been officially registered in Russia, twice: first in 1991 and then in 1998. It was never recognized as a sect; before registration, a serious state theological expert analysis was conducted," the religious leader maintained, but the audience did not let him finish talking but began chanting something sharp about sects and American spies.


An official of the Vyborg territorial board, Alexander Godun, who was conducting this meeting, tried to get the situation under control. "Ladies and gentlemen, I call to your attention that we are not conducting a religious discussion here but we are discussing an urban development project. I ask the speakers to stick to the topics and the rules," he

urged. "We won't give our land to fascists," somebody shouted in reply, and an elderly woman in a scarf took the microphone.


"I was a teacher for many years and am now retired. I am an Orthodox believer and I fear for Orthodox Russia, because it was only Orthodoxy that allowed us to win the second world war. I recently read a book about sects. I think we have more than 40: Adventists, Pentecostals, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovists. It blew my mind. And you know what's the worst thing? That each sect considers itself to be the best," the retiree declared, concluding with the statement that of course the Orthodox religion is the best.


"When we settled here we looked at the general plan. It does not contain any churches. Now that general plan is being violated, and without our consent. There is no place for any kind of sect here. I am ready to collect signatures against it and to take it to Putin in the Kremlin; I know how to do that," the next retiree declared, under approving shouts of "Correct!"


The head of the Shuvalovo-Ozerki municipal corporation, Vladislav Anosov, deftly caught the mood of the crowd. "Public hearings have a recommendation nature; we need arguments not emotions. As a person, and not as an official, I share your concerns. But we need to talk about something else. The construction rules indicate the permissible form of use of this parcel of land. There are permitted objects of a social, cultural, community, and domestic purposes, as well as average height buildings. There is not a word about religious uses," the deputy declared.


After several more speakers, the head of the Department of Construction and Land Use of the Vyborg district, Natalia Tkachenko, took the floor. "The administration of the district has frequently suggested to this organization that it get a parcel of land in appropriate condition. We have the right, if an object is inappropriate, to seize the parcel from the owner. Unfortunately, this procedure is very specific and it is difficult to prove the owner's fault. Even today's discussion can be interpreted as an attempt by the owner to get permission for bringing the land into order. We can begin negotiations with the owner of the land and perhaps we will be able to come to agreement on price and we will buy it and will build here some kind of public object, for example, a store," the official suggested.


Then Gleb Likhotkin spoke after identifying himself as a member of the "City without sin" movement. "You have huge plots and buildings all over the city, but five Mormons came to these hearings. Where are all of your adherents? What are you five doing in these enormous premises; are you collecting submarines?" the activist said with amazement.


The Mormons were not allowed to reply, although they tried to explain that they specifically did not try to get their members to come to the hearings in order to avoid conflicts, since they knew that a provocation was being planned.


Near the end of the meeting the crowd's anger was directed to the officials of the Vyborg territorial board. "On what basis are you giving permission for building houses of worship? What have these officials been doing for 15 years? Here this woman says that she has been working as the head of the construction department for only three years; what has she been doing all these years? Let's change jobs. The administration works poorly and the officials are getting big salaries. And then they say: 'Bolotnaia Square.'  That's where protests come from—bureaucrats themselves provoke us," the former commander of an army troop stated, glaring at Natalia Tkachenko.


"Here we are standing with them and conversing. One gets the feeling that we do not live in this land and the administration is for the Mormons and somehow not for us. If you have, if Mormons have property there, build a store, but we do not need your churches. If the people rise up then you will not have a Bolotnaia," said a man who identified himself as a hereditary cossack.


"Are you Russians at all, you Mormons?  You know a Russian mother gave birth to you. Tell me, looking in my eye, how could you get to the point where people curse you. Well how is it possible, explain to me, I do not understand why you are not ashamed. Leave these Mormons. We will happily receive you into the Orthodox faith. We teach what is good; we teach to love Russians. May God help you to come to your senses," shouted the most excited retiree to speak, approaching the Mormons and disrupting the noisy applause.


After the conclusion of the hearings, a Rosbalt reporter spoke with a representative of the religious association, Konstantin Pecherskii. "It seems to me that people came here to work out some of their complexes or to achieve political points, and not to discuss an urban construction object. In the course of the hearing, the law was continually broken; people directly insulted believers of another religion, and nobody stopped it. They insulted us and humiliated us just for belonging to a different religion. The members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to real time in prison for much less of a crime. We will not take these people to court, but we greatly regret that such intolerance is being cultivated in the society. We ourselves obey all laws of Russia, and we have the right to expect that those around us will behave similarly," the religious leader told Rosbalt.


The administration of the Vyborg territorial board has taken the results of the hearings into consideration. The final decision will be made after consultations with city authorities. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 August 2013)

Russian original posted on ReligioPolis, 13 August 2013

 Russia Religion News Current News Items

Problem of insufficient prayer sites for Muslims in Moscow


Interfax-Religiia, 13 August 2013


A group of Moscow urban specialists has suggested to the leadership of the capital an alternative resolution for the problem of insufficient mosques.


The authors of the idea think it would be appropriate to locate about 100 prayer sites for Muslims in green zones of Moscow, each of which will be able to accommodate about 100-150 believers, the newspaper Izvestiia writes on Tuesday.


It is proposed to make the sites collapsible, so that they would be erected only during times of prayer, and small in area (15 by 20 meters). During times of celebration of major Muslim holidays, like Kurban-Bairam this fall, screens could be erected next to the sites, on which prayers of the imam at the Cathedral mosque on Prospekt Mira would be broadcast.


The idea of preparing the portable prayer sites for Muslims in the parks of the capital was developed during the work of the summer classes of the Advanced School for Urban Specialists. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 August 2013)



Interfax-Religiia, 13 August 2013


Muscovites are masters of their city and therefore it is for them to resolve the question of the appearance of open-air Muslim prayer rooms in parks, thinks the acting deputy mayor of the capital for residences and construction, Petr Biriukov. "If Muscovites propose, if Muscovites support the creation of these sites, go ahead, we will create them," P. Biriukov told reporters on Tuesday.


"Other people also live there [in Moscow parks—IF] and they will suddenly say: No! Let's consult with Muscovites; they are masters of their city," the acting deputy mayor explained.


Earlier some news media reported information that open-air Muslim prayer sites may appear in Moscow parks. Supposedly capital urban specialists had made such a suggestion to Moscow authorities. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 August 2013)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Even attacking extremism is extremism


SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, 12 August 2013


On 12 August 2013 it was reported that Roskomnadzor [Russian Communications Monitoring Service] issued a warning to the editor and founder of the Khanti-Mansi "" Information Agency for publishing on the Internet an article "They do not appear in mosques," in which is quoted the banned book by the founder of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party, Takiuddin Nabkhana, "The concept of Hizb ut-Tahrir."


We studied the article and found that the author is criticizing the creation of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party and quotes from Nabhana's book in support of his position. In such cases we think that the sanctions for quotation are unjustified and illegal. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 August 2013)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Ukrainian evangelicals attack representative of American-inspired evangelism



The pastor of the "Regeneration" spiritual center, Vladimir Muntian ,"has deviated from evangelical teaching." This statement was issued by the committee and board of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith [TsKhVEU]. Neither Vladimir Muntian nor representatives of the center has yet reacted to the statement, the Christian megaportal reports.


"In analyzing his activity, which is spread through mass news media and video resources, we conclude that V. Muntian has deviated from evangelical teaching and is in spiritual delusion," the statement says, a text of which was published on the website of TsKhVEU. The document sets out the indications on the basis of which the conclusions about the activity of the pastor of the "Regeneration" spiritual center were drawn:


"An accent on the practice of release from ancestral curses, removal of 'corruption,' and removal of 'the crowns of celibacy,' which do not accord with evangelical doctrine but rather belong to the category of occult practice; manipulation with healing and exorcism of demons, including fraudulent use in his activity of instances of healings and release of people from evil spirits, which took place in other churches; use of psychological techniques for inciting fear of curses, which is a deception because every person who sincerely repents before God is released from every curse. Such incitement devalues Christ's sacrifice as insufficient for the complete liberation of a person; heavy emphasis on money and false teaching about prosperity which, as in the example of the Nigerian citizen Sunday Adelaja, can lead to a discrediting of the evangelical movement and Christianity in general in Ukraine (1 Tm 6.5-10," the document notes.


"In consideration of what we have stated above, we decisively declare our distancing ourselves from the doctrine and activity of V. Muntian and the 'Regeneration' spiritual center and we declare that he has nothing to do with the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine. We urge all Christians to beware of this figure in consideration of the Apostle Paul's warning: 'For I know that after my departure, savage wolves will come to you, not sparing the flock; and from among yourselves people will arise who will speak perverse things in order to draw disciples to themselves' (Ac 20.29-30)," the statement sums up.


At the present time, the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith, which is headed by Mikhail Panochko, comprises 24 regional associations as well as the associations of KhVE churches of Crimea and Kiev. In all, the union numbers 1490 churches.


Vladimir Muntian founded the church of the "Regeneration" spiritual center in Dnepropetrovsk in 2002. In his ministry he places emphasis on conducting evangelistic crusades and ministries of liberation and healing. Since 2005, within the church a college, "Mount of Moses," has been operating, whose first class comprised 200 persons and whose eighth,  2,500 persons.


In 2011 the church in Dnepropetrovsk acquired its own building. In the same year a church was opened in Kiev which in approximately one year also acquired its own building. Since the day of the founding of the church, Vladimir Muntian has conducted large crusades in the Ice Palace of Dnepropetrovsk, the Meteor stadium in Dnepropetrovsk, and in the Sports Palace in Kiev. In 2012 the crusade in the Sports Palace was interrupted by a report of a bomb planted in the hall.


Also in the church there is a focus on home groups. According to recent reports, besides a multitude of traditional cell-churches, there are more that 100 Internet groups throughout the world. Quite recently there began the broadcast of services of the churches through their own satellite television channel.


In 2013 it is planned to conduct the "Mount of Moses" college in the Sports Palace. Speakers for the college will include Ralph Neighbor, Dion Robert, and Tommy Tenney [i.e., American figures in the cell-church movement—tr.]. At the present time, more than 6,000 persons have already registered for the college. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 August 2013)



Regeneration spiritual center


Vladimir Muntian is the founder (in 2002) and senior pastor of the "Regeneration" spiritual center in the city of Dnepropetrovsk. The author of numerous sermons, books, television programs, and on-line broadcasts, Vladimir Muntian today ministers to thousands of people. Having a revelation from God about the person of the Holy Spirit and his mighty power that breaks curses, Pastor Vladimir Muntian conducts a ministry of breaking curses and of healing in cities of Ukraine. Every Saturday services also are conducted in Kiev at 3 Promyshlennaia Street at 11 a.m. and in Dnepropetrovsk in the church of the Holy Spirit at 23 Rabochaia Street at 11 a.m. In addition, about 1,000 persons every Sunday participate in worship services during an on-line broadcast. Around 200 television programs every month serve as spiritual food and answers for thousands of people in various corners of the world.


In the course of several years, eleven services of breaking curses and healing have been held in the largest hall of the city of Dnepropetrovsk, plus one service in a stadium.


On 7 July in the Sports Palace of Kiev a grandiose service was held. Around 14,000 persons and 300 busses came on this day to the capital of Ukraine in expectation of God and his strength. On that day, God visited his people, just as in the scriptures, when the glory of the King of Kings appeared to a throng of people. Thousands of people who were reconciled to God and an enormous multitude of testimonies to healing of incurable diseases, destruction of curses, alteration of fortunes, and restoration of families—all are the fruit of the ministry of Pastor Vladimir and [his wife] Viktoria Muntian. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 August 2013)

Russian original accessed on 12 August 2013



However, the pastor leading the conference says that despite the incident, the ‘Holy Spirit touched all participants’

 by Victoria Uzunova

Christian Telegraph, 10 July 2012


A conference on healing and the “demolition of ancestral damnation” was disturbed recently after information about a bomb threat, had been received.

The conference, attended by 14,000 people and led by Pastor Vladimir Muntyan from the Revival Spiritual Center, was being held on Saturday, July 7, 2012, in the Palace of Sports, the largest hall in Ukraine, when eyewitnesses reported that shortly after the event had begun, the sound was cutting out in the hall.

Managers at The Palace of Sports then told the conference organizers that a phone call had been received about a bomb threat.

A spokesperson for gathering said, “In connection with [the threat], the sound systems were turned off and the service continued through the stage monitors. Then, after the monitors were also turned off, Vladimir Muntyan preached and prayed for people with the help of megaphone.

“At 7:30 pm the pastor then asked people to leave the hall. They also prayed for the person who informed them about the bomb threat,” noted the press center.

After a search, the local police reported that they did not find any bombs in the hall.

Victor Matveev, a minister at the Revival Spiritual Center, underlined that he felt that this was a “planned action”.

He added, “There are people who don’t like Pastor Muntyan and our church, and I believe they made an effort to disturb the conference.”

The minister also said that, in spite of the incident, “a lot of people received healing and some even rose from wheelchairs.”

“I am glad that the Ukrainian people have a huge spiritual thirst for God’s presence,” noted Vladimir Muntyan. “I saw how the hall was full of people an hour before the conference began. Despite someone’s plan to disturb the meeting, God revealed His glory.”

He went on to say, that “Holy Spirit touched all participants," and added, “The situation shows me the importance of the work that we are doing in Ukraine. Satan opposes us, but his end is predicted. After this incident, I want to do more crusades, more miracle services. God’s Name will be glorified in Ukraine!”

The Revival Spiritual Center was opened in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, in 2002. There are many affiliated churches across all Ukraine. In 2012 they opened church in Kiev, the capital city.

Russia Religion News Current News Items

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